Defenders to Take FWS Back to Court for Failure to Protect Lynx Again

(06/06/1997) - Washington, D.C. - Getting the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect the lynx seems more elusive to conservationists than the small cat that has engendered a huge court battle under the Endangered Species Act. Based on the recent decision by the FWS to hold off on listing the lynx despite the agency's own admission that the cat is on the brink of extinction because of logging and road building, thirteen environmental groups today threatened to go back to court.

Led by Defenders of Wildlife, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, the groups today threatened to take the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the FWS back to court to begin the process of protecting the contiguous United States population of the lynx. Under court order to make a ruling on the lynx's status, FWS announced in late May that listing the species is "warranted, but precluded," That category is intended to be a means by which the FWS can postpone action on species deserving of protected status, yet not in imminent danger of extinction, in order to focus first on other critically imperilled species.

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen says, "The agency made this decision based on politics, not science. Use of the `warranted but precluded' status for a species in such critical danger of extirpation from the United States as the lynx is a tragic move away from the use of sound science in listing decisions and in implementation of the ESA. The status shouldn't be used as an escape hatch to avoid controversy."

On March 27, 1997, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the FWS' failure to list the species after two decades of knowing that it was biologically imperilled was illegal, and that the decision to not list the species under the ESA relied on "glaringly faulty factual premises, and ignored the views of its own experts." (Defenders v. Babbitt). Yet, in response to Judge Kessler's order to make a new decision on the status of the lynx, FWS issued the "warranted but precluded" announcement last month. In a "60-day" letter sent to FWS today, the thirteen groups gave notice of their intent to pursue the case further in court.

The lynx, a brownish-gray cat usually weighing less than thirty pounds and distinguished by its long black ear tufts, once ranged throughout many areas of the northwestern United States, Northern Great Plains, and northeastern United States. However, its numbers have dwindled to only several hundred scattered individuals, mostly in Maine, Montana, and Washington.

Mitch Friedman, of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance believes, "By putting the lynx in the black hole of the controversial species round file, the Service leaves its forest habitat vulnerable to the continued destruction that could very well drive the lower 48 population to extinction." Jasper Carlton, director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation concurred, stating "The U.S. Forest Service is currently proceeding with revised forest planning for the next decade without adequate biological strategies in place for lynx protection. Protecting lynx habitat throughout the forest planning process is critical."

One of the biggest threats to the lynx comes from continued logging and road building in northern forests. Many of these forests are roadless and administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The lynx, a predator high in the food chain, is an important species in boreal forests and needs undisturbed forest habitat in order to survive.

Defenders and other environmentalists have argued for several years that habitat destruction, trapping, hunting and loss of prey base could soon drive the lynx into extinction. In addition, Defenders has long suspected that the desire to cut national forest land in eastern Washington, western Montana and Idaho has been driving the political decision to leave the lynx unprotected. The "lawless logging" legislative rider and the endangered species listing moratorium passed by the 104th Congress, which have now expired, compounded the ecological problems facing the lynx, according to Defenders.

Defenders' Legal Director Bill Snape noted, "The chainsaws are already warming up for destruction of prime lynx habitat in many roadless areas of the northern Rockies and elsewhere. The Clinton Administration has capitulated to those who seek short term gain at the expense of our children's natural legacy. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne's draft ESA bill, for instance, would permit agencies like the Forest Service to unilaterally ignore advice from FWS biologists when determining timber harvest levels."

Despite the present tenuous political climate for wildlife, FWS biologists have spent years extensively researching the lynx and its habitat. Their research indicates that the U.S. lynx population is on the brink of extinction and is being splintered into smaller, isolated populations that cannot connect with each other due to continued clear cutting and road building through forest lands.

Several states have recognized that the lynx needs protection, including Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon. However, none of these states provide the protection of the federal ESA.

Defenders and the co-plaintiffs are represented on this issue by Eric Glitzenstein of the law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein in Washington, D.C. In addition to the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, co-plaintiffs include the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the Kettle Range Conservation Group, the Minnesota Ecosystem Recovery Project Inc., the Oregon Natural Resources Council Act, the Predator Project, Restore: the North Woods, the Superior Wilderness Action Network, the Colorado Environmental Coalition, and the Western Ancient Forest Campaign.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270